ISRO Missions and Discoveries

[pib] First evidence of Solitary Waves near Mars


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Solitary Waves, Mars

Mains level: Not Much

In a first-of-its-kind discovery, a team of Indian scientists from the Indian Institute of Geomagnetism (IIG) reported the first evidence of the presence of solitary waves around Mars.




  • Of the largest Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun and the second-smallest planet in the Solar System, being larger than only Mercury.
  • In English, Mars carries the name of the Roman god of war and is often referred to as the “Red Planet”.
  • The latter refers to the effect of the iron oxide prevalent on Mars’s surface, which gives it a reddish appearance distinctive among the astronomical bodies visible to the naked eye.
  • Mars is a terrestrial planet with a thin atmosphere, with surface features reminiscent of the impact craters of the Moon and the valleys, deserts and polar ice caps of Earth.
  • The days and seasons are comparable to those of Earth, because the rotational period, as well as the tilt of the rotational axis relative to the ecliptic plane, is similar.
  • Mars is the site of Olympus Mons, the largest volcano and highest known mountain on any planet in the Solar System, and of Valles Marineris, one canyons in the Solar System.


What are Solitary Waves?

  • Solitary waves are distinct electric field fluctuations (bipolar or monopolar) that follow constant amplitude-phase relations.
  • Their shape and size are less affected during their propagation.
  • Solitary waves are known to be responsible for the plasma energization and its transport in Earth’s magnetosphere.

Unveiling the undercover solitary waves

  • Earth is a giant magnetic entity, wrapped in a magnetosphere generated by the motion of molten iron in its core.
  • This magnetosphere casts a protective layer around our home planet, shielding us from the solar winds coughed towards us by the Sun.
  • But unlike Earth, Mars lacks a robust intrinsic magnetic field, which effectively allows the high-speed solar wind to interact directly with the Martian atmosphere.
  • This interaction suggests that even with a weak and flimsy magnetosphere, the frequent occurrences of solitary waves on Mars remain a possibility.

Why this is a significant feat for India?

  • Despite several missions to Mars, their presence has never been detected — until now.
  • However, Indian Scientists have successfully identified and reported the first-ever solitary waves detected on Mars.
  • They arrived at this result by analyzing about 450 solitary wave pulses observed by the Langmuir Probe and Waves instrument on NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft.

Decoding the data

  • Their analysis revealed distinct electric field fluctuations, which lasted for about 0.2-1.7 milliseconds.
  • Such signals were predominant during dawn or between afternoon to dusk at an altitude of 1000-3500 km from Mars’ surface.
  • Further investigation is needed to determine exactly why these waves are dominant during a fixed time of the day.

Significance of such waves on Mars

  • These pulses are dominantly seen in the dawn and afternoon dusk sectors at an altitude of 1000–3500 km around Mars.
  • Researchers are further exploring their role in the particle dynamics in the Martian magnetosphere and whether such waves play any role in the loss of atmospheric ions on Mars.
  • The study of these waves is crucial as they directly control particle energization, plasma loss, transport, etc., through wave-particle interactions.


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